_hojo:welcome to EarthJanuary 9, 2010
_I played Earthbound for the first time a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to write a blog post about it. But…it’s been hard. I’m trying to come to terms with the game. Trying to decide what my actual stance on it was. Trying to put into words what I felt about it. It’s been hard. Now some time has passed…and things haven’t really gelled in my head. But I figure I’ll shit something out on it anyways. No time like the present, right?
_So…what the fuck is up with Earthbound? Most people know it as that one game Ness is from in Smash Bros. It’s a turn-based RPG made by Nintendo. Ta-da. All you need to know about Earthbound in two sentences. And yet I’m going to continue. What a trooper. The things I do for you people.
_Let’s jump right into the meat and potatoes, the gameplay. Out and out, the gameplay is dick. It plays like an early NES turn based RPG. Slow battle complete with tons of missed attacks? Check. God awful shop menus that don’t give you slightest idea as to what the item you’re buying actually does? Check. Menus that requires a million button presses to figure out what skills actually do and the inability to check what any of your skills do in battle in conjunction with none of them except for the elemental attack based skills not being named after what they do either? Double check. Well…maybe I’m spoiled. Perhaps all these new fangled super-computer consoles with all their fancy hi-def menus and text have just made it too easy for me. Perhaps I just need to use my brain more and memorize what specific status effects Healing Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Omega heal. Maybe I’m just too used to developers taking it easy on me by telling me what weapons are accurate or what armor might raise my evade. I suppose that real hardcore gamers don’t need to know what an item actually does before they buy it. They just wing it and hope for the best, right? Good game design is incurable status effects from mid-dungeon, right? That force you to have to leave and go back into town to cure? In all honesty, all of this shit MIGHT have been semi-acceptable if this had been on the NES, back when the console RPG was in its infancy and developers were still trying to figure out what was good, what was bad and what was a fucking pain in the ass to players. The NES wasn’t a super powerful console, they’d have had to cut as many corners as they could to cram text into in the game or something, so they’d just put descriptions in the manual and hope you’d read about it in there. But this isn’t on the NES. It’s on the SNES. This was released 4 months after Final Fantasy 6 in Japan, one of the pinnacles of RPG design. But that’s unfair…but how about FF4? That came out in 1991, 3 YEARS before, and that was an infinitely better designed game. It’s as if APE/HAL played Dragon Quest and FF1 and said “This is pretty great. We should make a game like this!” but then ceased to ever play another game in the genre ever again and missed out on every advancement that ever occurred in RPG’s in all that time. Now, I’m taking it to the super-extreme here, but really, knowing the time-frame in which this game came out, the gameplay of Earthbound is inexcusable. Every other positive aspect of EB could not make up for how piss-poor the actual gameplay and general RPG design was.
_OK…I’ve got the biggest dump out of the way. Let’s move on to more positive things, shall we? Stylistically, the game is very charming. The game has a great soundtrack, and has more battle themes then you can shake a stick at. If there was ever an RPG that will never bore you with its battle theme, it’s Earthbound. Top to bottom, the soundtrack is solid. Graphically…I remember an old GamePro review saying that the graphics looked like something out of an NES game…while I don’t think I’d go that far, the actual sprite work isn’t terribly impressive. However, that said, the graphics have the same appeal that a child’s crayon drawing has. So while they don’t impress on a technical level in any way, they’re hardly an eyesore. You just want to pat the cartridge on the head and say “Don’t worry Earthbound…you’re OK just the way you are.”
_Earthbound is an RPG, so…how’s the writing? The game is often hailed for the humorously written story and dialog, so I was looking forward to that aspect. I found it to be a mixed bag. A lot of the writing was genuinely humorous and well-done, and the NPC’s, while in traditional RPG fashion, have nothing of any real value to say are often good for a nice chuckle. Better than “OMG the bad guy sure is a bad guy,” or “Nothing important or interesting at all.” Unfortunately, the party members are all pretty mute when they’re in your party and are pretty much uninteresting all the time. As for the main plot, you can try to fool me with the atypical setting, and the main NPC’s silly banter all you want, but I can see through it and see the standard main cliche story underneath. Let’s just do a quick overview…evil being is hellbent on destroying earth…other being says “dude, you and these destined other people gots ta beat him. Go collect this shit.” During the final battle, you defeat the evil baddie via prayers from various friends you’ve met on your journey. Oh, sorry for spoiling that epic narrative for you.
_When all was said and done, Earthbound left me overall unimpressed. While the aspects of the game that get the most praise (the dialog, soundtrack and graphical style) didn’t disappoint, everything else certainly left me disappointed in spades. Overall, the game was a mixed bag, but unfortunately with the most important aspects of an RPG for me (gameplay and plot) being the bad parts of the mix. Is it worth playing if you’re an RPG fan? Probably. It IS an interesting game just if for the soundtrack and atypical setting alone, and if NES-style RPG’s are still playable for you, then you might get more enjoyment out of the game than I did. Is it worth playing if you’re not an RPG fan, but just want to check it out because you played Smash Bros.? I guess that depends on how hard you like to ride Nintendo’s jock. One thing that I can say after having played it is that there’s no denying that Earthbound is a truly unique experience in RPG gaming…but that doesn’t make it a good RPG. Earthbound gets 2 1/2* out of 5.